Bands, choirs and night camps allowed

“For a while we had virtually no orchestral ensemble and no choir.

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“When we started having ensemble groups training again, they were very split into very small age groups, so we couldn’t play together as one big ensemble. It was really sad because a lot of my close friends are in other age groups, and we couldn’t learn from each other and play together.

Eleni’s mother, Tiffany, said she was delighted that the pupils could sing in choirs, play in orchestras and perform in musicals again in different age groups.

“Music is such an important part of our daughter’s life at school and over the past two years so much has been restricted and this is her last year,” she said.

David Gresham, director of music at St Catherine’s and president of the Australian Band & Orchestra Directors Association, NSW, said the changes would ensure students did not miss out on a third year of opportunities in the arts.

“Previously, music programs were significantly impacted by restrictions on cohort mixing,” he said. “Most choirs, bands, orchestras or musicals simply couldn’t take place because of this restriction. The changes now allow these sets and production to take place.

“Returning singing to schools is essential to both classroom and extracurricular music.

Stephen O’Doherty, host of the Instrumental and Vocal and Music Education Organizations Roundtable and former NSW Education Minister, welcomed the changes after his group advocated for two years for the return of music from a ‘COVID smart way’.

All pupils and staff have been asked to take a rapid antigen test before they return for the start of the school term on February 1 and to take two tests each week for the first four weeks of the term.

On Sunday, NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet presents the government’s back-to-school strategy with Education Minister Sarah Mitchell (left).Credit:James Alcock

Ms Mitchell said more than four million rapid antigen tests (RATs) had been distributed and more than six million would be available by Tuesday evening. More than eight million surgical masks have been sent to schools.

Schools will not be closed in the event of a positive case, but the school community will be informed.

Acknowledging there would be ‘disruption’ and ‘challenges along the way’, Prime Minister Dominic Perrottet said it was important for children to return to school on the first day of term, especially for some who have missed up to a quarter of their schooling during the pandemic.

“It’s where our children work best and opportunities are created,” he said.

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“It’s best for academic achievement, it’s best for mental health, and it’s also best for social outcomes.”

NSW Teachers Federation president Angelo Gavrielatos said his members were concerned about the health and safety of pupils and staff. While the NSW Government advised, but did not require, primary school children to wear masks, Mr Gavrielatos said they should be compulsory for all primary and secondary pupils, as they were in Victoria .

“We remain very concerned and are preparing for a disrupted start to school,” he said.

“You can’t be careful enough with these settings. No other industry asks you to be on a job site with hundreds and up to 2000 other people in sometimes poorly ventilated sites, which are classrooms for up to 30 students.

NSW Health Director Kerry Chant said while some transmission of the virus was likely to occur in schools, it was important that children return to class in the interests of their “health, well-being and development”.

“I share the Prime Minister’s support for children engaging in face-to-face learning,” Dr Chant said. “While community cases are high, we expect to see schools reflect what is happening in the community. We expect to see cases among children and staff attending schools.

“The twice-weekly testing regime… will allow us to catch these cases a bit earlier with this rapid antigen test. But in addition, we call on all parents to ensure that any child showing symptoms is not sent to school.

“I ask parents during these first four weeks to try to minimize their children’s activity or association with other children during sleepovers and other activities that may cause infection so that we can preserve this face-to-face time at school while this community level of transmission is high.

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